There’s something about Caribbean food that soothes the soul, mends the spirit, and satisfies even the hungriest of hungers. You may be surprised to learn the taste of the warm islands, surrounded by pristine turquoise waters and dotted with spectacular rainforests filled to the brim with juicy tropical fruits, can be found tucked away on this island off the coast of Massachusetts. Imagine my rejoicing when I heard that Chef Deon, a Caribbean with a cult following, was cooking up the food of my fellow island neighbors right here in Oak Bluffs.
When you meet Chef Deon for the first time, you can instantly get a read on his calm yet joyful demeanor, which inspires the recipes at the local VFW. It’s an unlikely place to find a Culinary Institute-trained Jamaican chef who has cooked in over 12 restaurants in his lifetime. But this is where he has settled down, for the time being, to cook food that’s reminiscent of his homeland and makes you smile from the first bite.
Here at the VFW, you can order Jerk Chicken ($18) with red bean rice and fried sweet plantains. Or Ram Goat Curry ($20) served over fluffy rice. When I saw these two items on the menu, my eyes glazed over. I quickly forgot he also offers more traditional American dishes for those not ready to tackle the food of the islands, like creamy macaroni and cheese ($10), fried fish and chips ($12), or a Southern classic like buttermilk fried chicken and waffles ($15). Surely, I can find those staples elsewhere on-Island, but this might be the only spot on Martha’s Vineyard where I can find jerk chicken and goat curry seven days a week.
The Jerk Chicken is first marinated in Deon’s homemade jerk marinade, a locally sourced secret blend of peppers and spices which he also sells at the restaurant. The flavorful marinade soaks into the chicken, which he slow roasts then tosses in the sauce. With a flick of the wrist, he coats the chicken, ladles in a bit of cornstarch slurry to thicken it up, and brings it to a quick simmer.
In the meantime, the Goat Curry is slowly bubbling up on the stove and the warm spices in the sauce are making my mouth water. Goat is the most widely consumed red meat in the world, yet we rarely see it cooked in American households or restaurants. We consume plenty of goat cheese and goat milk, but when it comes to the meat, we’re slacking. There’s no American market for goat meat, meaning when these goats breed and give birth to male offspring, they have nowhere to go (with the rare exception of the VFW).
Chef Deon carefully sources his goat meat, which yields a tender dish when cooked for hours with curry, spices, and dried herbs like thyme and rosemary. It’s a must-have, perfect for the cold winter ahead of us. Just be careful when eating goat curry, as it can contain bones. But it’s worth the effort, so make sure to order it.
Chef Deon rotates specials constantly, listening to what his audience craves. As we talked, various patrons requested his prime rib, which was the special that day but is normally available on weekends. Chef Deon says takeout is where he shines during the off-season. Guests can call in for a sampling of the menu to take out and enjoy in the comfort of their own home.
If you haven’t tried Caribbean food, now is your chance. It’s the perfect food to eat on a snowy New England day — nothing is better than saucy meats served over rice and beans that soak up all the finger-licking-good juices. Chef Deon’s cooking leaves me craving my mother’s cooking, but in the meantime it holds me over.
The VFW is located on 14 Towanticut, Oak Bluffs, and serves up lunch and dinner daily starting at noon. To order takeout, call 508-693-9261.